The Marianas Trench [excerpt] – Ryan Madej
October 16, 2019
My time fades in the rain as the night passes through the space of my fingers. The days are
unimportant and obscure by my estimations, but as my narrative unfolds with each passing
instance, perhaps the days, weeks, months, and years that have passed will have come into clear
focus. The lounge I sit in is a stone’s throw from the city limits; a city or a town (I can’t seem to
remember which) whose name I can’t pronounce, where the clamor of bells and whistles from
ships blend in beautifully with the hypnotic storm outside. Sheet lightning illuminating the
darkness, thunder breaking the near silence. The sea swells and recedes nearby like the images
and thoughts through my head. It’s been three days since I’ve slept. I look around myself seeing
no sad faces, only joy and contentment. Yet, I cannot dissolve into such a euphoric state like
those around me. If I concentrate hard enough nobody seems to move. Frozen. Paralysis numbs
these people right before my eyes. Lights flicker in the semi-darkness. My thought is half-
finished, leaving me one complete breath before everything starts moving again. There are spots
of blood on my sleeves, but no one seems to notice…
down to my wrists
I see the blade before my mind’s eye, gleaming, the death instrument. I also see myself standing
over her naked body, hand touching her breast, tongue seeking tongue. Then, nothing. That is
where the thought ends. The whole of my story starts with her, or perhaps it’s better to say Them,
the Twins of my passions. I light a cigarette and order another drink. The night is young and I
have much more to say.
The meek shall inherit the Earth; the meek shall inherit nothing. I closed my Bible long ago and
opened this notebook in order to prove it. (These walls have shut me in). If I strain my eyes by
looking off into the corners of the lounge, where a couple are swapping spit, their shapes turn
into strange melting formations—a pile of liquid flesh.
-Sir, are you doing alright?
Looking up while concealing my sleeves, the buxom waitress, face and all, has begun to slip
away from her bones just as the couple did a moment ago. Weakly smiling, I try to respond, but
instead I just wave her away with my hands and let my face fall into my palms.
-We’ll be closing in half and hour.
I barely hear what she says. Only the thunder and piano tinkles from a Beethoven sonata are
what pass into nothingness. Tap, tap, tap, CRASH…tap, tap, tap, go the keys…then, CRASH goes
the foot of God above me. Finally, I lift my pen.
The sonata has brought out the moon in my mind. That, and the sultry pair of eyes with the soft
penetrating gaze. I know those eyes. The moon greeted me one evening in the Fall, looking as
though the sky was engulfed by its sheer size, while I was on my way to see Ophelia. Hands in
my pockets, smoking a sweet cigar, calmed by the silence. I stopped at a bench to admire the
deep seas and craters that appeared much more visible that night. As I sat with the cigar
dangling from my lips, I could see Ophelia’s face in the moon dust; sad, lonely. It had been
weeks since I felt her skin…
Her teeth biting the pillow Her hands tied with silken ribbon Her blood on my fingers
In a dream only days before she was cowering in a darkened corridor weakened by some
intangible force, and me standing over her waiting patiently for the death cry, my tears falling at
her feet. I cannot explain it, but I felt a terror unlike any terror before, as she screamed. The
moon was full and it seemed to bleed a crimson red. Getting up I felt invigorated and chilled in
equal doses. I continued to walk in her direction.
The lounge is now closed for the evening; standing in the tiny foyer waiting for the rain to stop.
Slipping my journal into my coat, I pull out my zippo to light a cigarette. Not far away, the sea
stretches out before me, and I see nothing but a deep blackness and hear only the sound of the
rain pounding the pavement. My hotel room awaits me, but I will not sleep. Stepping out into the
downpour, the rain claws at me like some rabid animal attacking an unsuspecting stranger. I try
to shield myself from its blows as I break into a run in the direction of the hotel. No lights guide
me. Soon I’ll be chilled to the bone.
The Hotel Room
Where did I leave off ? Ophelia: too much water, so now I forbid my tears. But there is certainly
more to say. I arrived at her apartment late that night. She answered the door wrapped in a
kimono a friend had brought back from Japan, her chestnut hair tied back and her lips a dark
“What took you so long, M.?”
I told her I had stopped to admire the moon. She laughed at my comment. Closing the door
behind me I kissed her hard on the mouth. Cold, very cold lips, like kissing a corpse. One of her
breasts, the left one, I remember because there was still the smallest evidence of a bite I had
given her the last time, came tumbling out of her silken kimono, waiting for me to grasp with my
hands. Her hair glittered in the hallway light as I kneaded her breast; her peppermint breath
warming my neck.
“First we need a pick-me-up before we continue” I recall her saying.
I knew what she was referring to. On the table in the living room was the Thebean meerschaum
pipe shaped in the likeness of a blooming rose, cradling a piece of opium. Sitting down she
opened her kimono, reclining with the pipe in hand beckoning me over with her painted fingers.
Soon the room filled with smoke; the meerschaum turning a dark orange as we nearly lost sight
of one another, but energetic enough to paw and intertwine our bodies; her lips were no longer
cold. Somehow we found our way to her bedroom, whose lights she turned blue. Naked and
drugged as we were—her skin the hue of some forgotten sea—I looped a piece of nylon rope
around her neck and entered her from behind. My mind hurtled away from me as the rope
tightened and our bodies moved in rhythm. As the night wore on, the opium wore off, and we lay
upright in Ophelia’s bed, lighting each others cigarettes when she turned to me with her glazed
eyes and suddenly became serious.
” Can I tell you something, M.? Something serious? Or are you still too stoned to really talk
Tapping out my smoke I turned on my belly and asked her to continue.
“I’ve been wanting to cut again, M. Other than seeing you, I’ve really felt like I have nothing left
to give the world but my body. In saying that, you have become the world to me, as fucking
stupid as that sounds. Very little gives me any pleasure, only you.”
“Should I be concerned?” I asked calmly
” Maybe you should.”
I laughed and proceeded to light another cigarette for her. She casually put it to her lips and shot
me a look of disdain, probably because I didn’t give her the response she wanted. Opening the
bedside drawer she produced a tiny blade no bigger than a penknife that had flecks of old blood. Leaning back on the pillow she played with it for awhile as she smoked before speaking again.
“Do you believe in prophecy, M?”
“Only in personal prophecy.”
“So you’re a prophet, then?”
“Something like that. Only I dream of something more than being a prophet.”
“And what would that be?” She asked curiously.
“That’s for me to know and you to find out, my dear.”
With those words she no longer questioned me, but I could tell I had left her intrigued for more.
As she put the blade away and flicked off the light, I turned on my side to look out the window
searching for the lunar disk. Nothing. With sleep slowly weighing upon me I remembered a
prayer that had often given me solace, it went as follows: ‘ O Divine One, grant me the strength
to pull the trigger. Grant me the wisdom to know when I have been more than a Sadist and a
mediocre Masochist. Grant me these and I will worship you a thousand fold before it’s all said
and done. Amen.’
Closing my eyes, I felt myself smiling.
I’m alive. Despite my idea that I’m truly dead, a twitching in my mind keeps pounding out a
signal that some remnant deep within me glows with a pale light. I’m back at the lounge, for the
hotel was too silent and cold for my liking today. I stare blankly out of the lounge window, my
face half reflected in the glass. Pools of water have risen in the sunken concrete. I sit alone near
the exit. The bartender is playing solitaire, a small cigar hanging from his lips, and his ashen
features are clouded in smoke, disappearing and reappearing in waves. Waves like the sea ,
waves outside the window, waves of thought, cresting and foaming at the edges of my mind,
ebbing and flowing. A svelte young woman with crimson hair sits down at the bar. She reminds
me of the Other Twin, the one who got away; the one I’ve been after ever since she disappeared.
Before Ophelia, there was Red. After Red, only a series of dead ends. I can still vividly picture
the night we met. The sky lit up in cherry blossom and citrus orange. The streets of Midtown
alive with the usual intoxicating cries, empty banter, and dull light. She wore black gloves,
perfectly fitted to her slender fingers. Her facial dimensions were simple, but sharpened around
the eyes, bringing out the pale blue. I could never look deeply into Red’s eyes, for often there
seemed to be a dark stream crossing over her face. She smoked Egyptian cigarettes and played
chess. Yes, chess. I had nearly forgotten her obsession with the game and its nostalgic flavours,
systems, and general miscellany. During our first conversation together, I found out she was a
rather experienced player; consequently leading me into a match with her less than a week later.
She lived in one of the better areas of Midtown, deep in the Western Quarter in a stylish house
that seemed to suit her tastes. Upon entering I noticed that she kept a wide collection of
Japanese Noh masks on her wall, along with numerous odds and ends that had a foreign taste.
“Care for a drink before we sit down?”
“A scotch if you have it. Neat.”
“Good choice. I’ll join you in one of those.”
As she prepared the drinks, I noticed the board had already been set up in the living room with
the pieces perfectly aligned. We sat down across from one another and clinked our glasses. I
took the opportunity to light her cigarette, which she graciously accepted.
“You’re very much the gentleman, which seems to be a rarity here in Midtown since I returned.
Actually, when we ran into one another I just returned by train that night. You offered me a light
then, too. Are you always in the habit of picking up strange women?”
“If the mood strikes me.”
“Well I’m glad it did. I could tell right away we would get along just fine.”
“How so? Are you truly that insightful during first meetings?”
“My perceptions of people are rarely inaccurate, which comes from many years spent hunched
over a chessboard such as this one here. I bought it in Prague several years ago when I was
traveling through Europe.”
“It really is beautiful.”
“Yes. Shall we begin?”
The game progressed quickly, as did the consumption of scotch and cigarettes between us. By
move twenty, I started to lose focus and I could see a different side of Red emerge on those sixty-
“Look at the board carefully before making a move.”
“I prefer to move the pieces my own way, thanks.”
“So in other words, stupidly and haphazardly? Is that what you’re saying?”
Her hand hovered over a knight. Blue smoke escaping from between her lips in tiny wisps. She
moved it and managed to fork my queen and rook—the game, along with my sobriety, was
slipping away from me.
“Say what you will about my play on the board, but I’m enjoying this.”
” I suppose I was right about you.” she said softly.
“How do you mean?
” You rely more on instinct than logic, which is apparent from your play on the board. You can’t
see that far ahead, which is unfortunate. If you were able to, perhaps this game would have gone
a lot longer.”
“Are you always such a bitch?”
“Only when the mood strikes me.”
Evening again. The warm air of late summer drifts over my head as I look out to sea. The path
between here, the hotel, and the lounge is all I’ve cared to traverse the whole time I’ve been here,
which seems far too long. It will be sunset soon and I should get inside in order to avoid the
shadows and silence, but I need some fresh air to continue…
In many ways, I was playing a winning game with Ophelia, for she often fell into my arms after
being alone so long, and during those hours we continued to spend together, I began to feel a
deep warmth grow within me that was purely mine. I began to see again for I had been blind to
my own power. Ophelia was truly mine for the taking, if I so chose. I came to realize this one
night when we were stepping out for the evening at a private club in Midtown’s Dragon Court.
“How did you get access to this place, M.? Special connections?”
“You could say that. I’ve spent as much time around the riff-raff of the Dragon’s Court as much
as I’ve spent a better part of my youth in libraries. I appreciate the dichotomy, and I’ve learned
much from both.”
“Leave no stone unturned .”
She stood close to me as we walked, practically enveloping herself into my trench coat. I lit a
cigarillo and exhaled the smoke into the night. Ophelia had had too much wine before we
departed and perhaps that was why she was clinging to me so tightly. As we stepped into the
penumbra of a streetlight I could see her mascara running.
“Are you crying, Ophelia? My God, what’s wrong with you tonight?”
“You will never leave my side tonight will you, M.? Promise me you’ll stay close to me.”
“I promise. Though I have to tell you that where we’re going is not for the squeamish.”
Looking at me directly with large eyes and weak smile, she went back into the crook of my arm
without saying another word. My mind reeled at the thought of what the night was going to bring
me with Ophelia beside me. As we walked deeper into the Court and the light around us
dispersed, I began to feel completely at ease as though I were slipping under a warm blanket…
The Archive called me late on a Saturday asking me to come in as soon as possible. I forget what
I was doing but grabbed my coat and hopped the next train from the Outskirts into Midtown,
practically running through the corridors of the Hall of Records and Old Library to my familiar
desk with its mountain of files. One in particular—the one every one would be envious to have—
sat neatly at the foot of the mountain, wrapped nicely in dark blue paper.
–It came in this afternoon. Dropped off it would seem.
The Director was standing at my desk, clutching a series of files, a grave look on his face.
-Process this quickly and archive it. No need to dwell too long on the contents. He must be dead
by now, as this package would seem to indicate that.
-How do you figure? He hasn’t been in Midtown in years. Maybe this is just what he intended.
He sat down on my desk and looked at me very intently, quietly lighting a cigarette without
averting his gaze.
-Remember, our duty here is to preserve materials not exploit them. I want this processed within
the next two weeks and the report finalized. Understood?
-Yes, sir…no problem.
Getting up he crushed the cigarette in my ashtray which was overflowing and walked off to his
office. I heard every step as we were the only two people there. Gently unwrapping the package I
began to see just how much material awaited me. The manuscript was neatly handwritten on high
grade paper and seemed to emit a scent of the sea, salty and warm. Leaning back in the chair I
picked up a handful of pages and began to read.
The Marianas Trench
by Mantra Hand
“The continuous work of our life is to build death” Michel de Montaigne
From that first sentence, though it was not his own, put its tentacles around me and began to
squeeze, gently at first…
When I came into possession of the journals, letters, and collages collected under the Marianas
Trench by Mantra Hand, I felt as though the quantum field had grown and placed a large
piece of gold in my hands. Everyone in Midtown had heard the name before, but only a handful
had ever seen the face or spoken to the man who had written several masterful works over the
course of only a few years. One of which, The Black Roses, still sits on my shelf. For those who
knew about him through his writings and strange interviews, it was assumed that he was writing
a final masterpiece, but after his disappearance the hopes of this happening seemed impossible.
That was until the manuscript arrived at the Archive. When something comes into the Archive,
that means one of two things: either the person is deceased, or the person has consciously chosen
to have the material archived. Neither one of these conditions could be confirmed by any
source…Midtown has only one way in and out, and Mantra Hand left the party early.
The rules of the Archive do not allow those who work there to take material home, so that night I
read as much as possible before fatigue gave in, highlighting key points with asterisks and
annotations as I progressed, though this didn’t stop me from photocopying a few pages here and
there for my own delight, being a fan and all. Processing the book and never seeing it again did
not appeal to me. The first section entitled The Door, though brief and cryptic—which most of
his work was, with the exception of the Black Roses—had the all the usual Mantra Hand
The Door always swings inward, for that is what I’ve been told in the past, the distant past, by
those people who have crossed over the threshold. Those same people never returned. Their
voices come to me through invisible means known as the Muted Horn*. The entrance to the Door
is always changing. Keep that in mind if you’re ever trying to find me. This is as much a guide as
it is a story, so listen carefully. All that preceded these pages was a preamble to a disappearance
alluded to at an earlier time that hopefully fell into the hands of my biographer*. I’ll begin by
giving you a survey of my thoughts at the present time. My location is unknown, even to me, but
I dare say that I’ll be liberated. I should probably begin with a dramatis personae of sorts, even
though the players are few and the stage is small.
The Muted Horn is unreliable, but I’m not going to get into the aspects as to its nature. That my
friends is a difficult task that even I’m not up to these days. In saying that, the Muted Horn may
have been responsible for my current predicament, not to mention the appearance of R. into my
life. R. is the epitome of the grand gesture, the terra incognita, and the femme fatale. A
combination that is rare while at the same time deadly, though not in the physical sense. I had
hoped—perhaps naively and obsessively—that opening the Door would lead me to her again.
But as I began to search her out, I began to question why I would want to find someone who had
caused me so much chaos in so little time. The point cannot be stressed enough that Midtown is a
place that forever remains foreign to me, even after decades of within its walls. R. was very
much the same way—elusive, of unknown origin, destined to remain a mystery even after a
lifetime in her presence. My time with her was limited—though often it felt like a thousand
lifetimes—yet despite that fact, like the Door, much more opened up for me…better or worse.
….I walked to a nearby hotel that first night for a nightcap after the initial reading, looking over
my shoulder hoping the Director didn’t send someone after me. He did that sort of thing to
people he didn’t trust with sensitive information. Just by looking at me he could tell I might try to
pull the wool over his eyes, but he had no choice but to give me the package because he knew I
had a deep interest in Mantra Hand. My face and hands tingled as I walked the nearly invisible
footpath that snakes its way through the smaller inconspicuous areas of the city—places virtually
vacant, shadowy, and lifeless during the day—before abruptly ending mere blocks from the
Dragon’s Court in the foreign district. Only half a dozen lights illuminated the path between
Salamander Road and the divide at the Marble Corridor when I heard a voice call out to me from
beneath one of the lamps. His face, half in the obsidian blackness, the other half looking at me
with a dull gaze, beckoned me gruffly to step into the light.
-Do you have a cigarette, friend? I’m fresh out.
-Yeah sure. Is that all you want ?
His eyes glazed over. I still could not see his face. The glow from the moon seemed to turn what
I could see of his profile a deathly blue.
-All I want is a cigarette, yes.
Opening a fresh pack, I handed him one, flicking the lighter alive.
-Don’t need a light. Have my own thanks.
Slipping one between my lips, I let the naked flame send me the nicotine bliss. I stood there in
the moonlight glow for a moment before walking off.
-Thanks my friend. Hopefully we will run into each other again.
Turning around I could no longer make out any trace of him, only the smoking butt of the
cigarette burning in a badly tended flowerbed. I threw my photocopies in the nearest garbage can
and walked a little faster.
A little known fact: If you sleep in a cold room, you are more likely to have a bad dream. My
room at the Hotel Papillion that night felt like an icebox as I staggered in around 3 in the
morning. Six double gin and tonics. Two words kept echoing in my head so I wouldn’t forget the
next day when I awoke: Muted Horn. I kept saying them over and over in my slurred mind
speech as I sat down by the window and looked across the empty plaza. Barren trees. Winter is
coming, I thought to myself. Pale, cold, and dead. I fell asleep in the chair with my clothes on
and dreamed of being buried alive in a snowstorm.
-You look like death warmed over. What happened to you?
Sandra. I looked up from the pile of papers in front of me and saw her standing there, her black
hair shiny and immaculate. She worked on the other half of the floor but we often ran into one
another in the stacks. That day she was wearing a blue cashmere sweater and tight black skirt. To
say I wanted to sleep with her was an understatement, but we were still stuck in first gear, mainly
due to my lack of charm. I kind of stared blankly at her for a moment before responding.
-I’ve been nursing a hangover. Need to get back to my apartment and shower, shave. What are
you doing here on a Sunday anyway?
-I could ask you the very same thing, but I know why. You hit the jackpot didn’t you?
Even in a place like the Archive with its quiet sensibilities news travels fast. Too fast. I turned
away and lit a cigarette( my fourth) and finished my coffee (my third), trying my best not to look
at her directly for two reasons: she looked stunning, and I didn’t really want to get into too much
detail regarding the manuscript.
-So are you going to remain so coy, or are we going to have a little chat about your little score
later? she said in a near whisper.
-Maybe. Come back around three. I’ll be ducking out around then and heading back to the
-I’ll see you then.
I didn’t dare look at her as she walked away thinking she might notice me. I looked out the
window instead and saw that it had started raining. Fuck, I thought, didn’t bring an umbrella.
Sandra probably brought one with her that day. She was the type who was always prepared.
Fate smiled on me that day, and a little bit of radiance broke through the murky gloom.
Three o’clock came around faster than I had anticipated, and my thoughts were still sunk deeply
into what the Muted Horn meant. Sandra appeared at my desk with a wry smile and her
umbrella. Closing my laptop, I put on my overcoat and we slowly made our way through the
halls, our footsteps echoing deeply. Sandra was still smiling.
-Did you make any progress this afternoon? she asked.
-Mmm. Sounds like the fan boy is having some trouble, eh?
I said nothing.
-I suppose you didn’t know that I wrote several papers on Mantra Hand back in college. He has
been something of an obsession of mine for a long time. I mean why wouldn’t he be? Best writer
Midtown has produced. I envy you.
-I wrote a paper on him too.
-A few years ago. Published it in a small literary journal. It was called The Transmutation of
–Interesting title. We should compare notes sometime. I live in the Western Quarter if you ever
want to drop by for coffee.
-Are you asking me out?
-Maybe. Something you should have done awhile back. We could have had some great talks
about Mantra by now. Here’s my number. Use it.
She opened her umbrella and stepped out into the mist, not even saying goodbye or turning to
wave. I needed a smoke and realized I was fresh out. The long train ride out of the city was going
to feel a lot longer today now that I was having a nic fit. Rubbing my face and turning up my
collar, I practically ran to the station. I was the only passenger that afternoon and I quickly fell
asleep by the window. Arriving back in the Outskirts the rain had stopped, but it had created a
landscape awash in deep tones of blue, a forest mushroom blue. My apartment was freezing and
far too silent. Unopened mail, unwatched movies, and untouchable Chinese food sat on my
coffee table. I wondered if Sandra had made it home. An hour went by, then two. I couldn’t sit
still so I picked up the phone, dialing the number as fast as I could. No answer, only the machine.
-Hey Sandra. Would you want to meet up tonight if possible? I can take the train back into the
city in a couple hours. Call me if you get this.
Walking over to the bookshelf, I pulled down my copy of Mantra’s The Black Roses and flipped
to a page I had marked, noticing a highlighted passage I had forgotten about.
“ On a clear night in the Northern hemisphere, the naked eye can discern some five thousand
stars—all of them beautiful, and all of them dead long ago. If Earth were a star we would appear
the same way to some alien world. Beautiful, perhaps, but equally dead.”
As I finished reading the passage, the phone rang. Sandra. Picking up the receiver I barely had
the chance to say hello.
-My address is 1120 Salamander Road. I’ll be waiting outside. See you soon.
Click. Dial tone. Half an hour later I was out the door with the copy of The Black Roses stuffed
into my overcoat, peering at the monolithic buildings that were becoming slowly shrouded in the
evening fog as the train made it’s way toward the Marble Corridor. I flipped through the pages of
the book to see if I had highlighted anymore passages, perhaps hoping I would be given some
clue in connection to my current task. Nothing, not even a scribble in the margins. Closing the
book, I began thinking about Sandra and just how quickly things came to together in such a
wonderful, if odd way earlier on. It felt like a well constructed dream, and if it was, I didn’t want
to wake up from it anytime soon. Salamander Road was unusually quiet that night, even for a
Sunday as I casually made my way through the Western Quarter toward Sandra’s home. The
further I walked from the core the darker it seemed to get, as though the clouds had descended
onto the streets. Thankfully, Sandra was one of the few to have the sense to keep a light on,
whereas most of the other houses looked like silhouettes drowning in the burgeoning fog. She sat
on her front step bundled in black pea coat sipping coffee when she noticed me approaching.
-You made it, I see. Guess we have a lot of time to make up for, don’t we?